aerial photo looking down at mudflats and mangroves with a small creek

Aerial monitoring

Delivering a bird's eye, real time view of our tropical marine environments

Aerial drones deliver a birds-eye, real-time perspective of our coral reefs.  

AIMS is using drones to survey shallow, clear-water reef flats that are inaccessible to divers and vessels.

Drones can assist with tasks such as quickly locating underwater buoys and pinpointing areas that require further underwater investigation.

They are also useful for monitoring areas such as mangroves that may be hazardous for divers due to wildlife or other environmental conditions.  

In conditions such as low cloud cover, that reduces visibility, drones are an effective alternative to manned aircraft and satellite surveys.

Drones can collect information in many forms including high-resolution imagery, thermal imagery and hyperspectral datasets. This can provide information on water quality, temperature, coral reef health over time and bathymetry maps. 


Drones can be deployed from AIMS vessels in the field as a very cost-effective method of aerial survey compared with manned aircraft. 

They can fly to pre-programmed locations or be manually controlled via remote control. 

Some small field-ready drones are capable of flight times of more than 90 minutes. 

Aerial or coral reef with a zoomed in section
An orthomosaic of Davies Reef, central Great Barrier Reef

Over the past few years, AIMS has invested in a fleet of commercial-grade drones with capacity to carry cameras and up to 6kg of sensing equipment to increase marine data collection.  

AIMS has CASA certification, an on-site Chief Pilot, trained and certified operators, and has completed hundreds of drone flight hours on both the east and west coast of Australia.  

Promising routine marine monitoring applications for drones:  

  • Mapping and tracking plumes such as those from dredging and floods, algal blooms and surface slicks such as oil spills and coral spawning
  • Benthic monitoring 
  • Coral bleaching surveys
  • Bathymetry mapping
  • Damage assessment surveys when ships are grounded
  • Marine infrastructure inspections
  • Monitoring progress of potentially risky field work
  • Assisting scientists to target underwater surveys 
  • Surveys in rough sea conditions and low cloud cover
  • Water analysis 
  • Measuring ocean colour to validate satellite data or model outputs.